“Where the Sustainable Things Are” and other nonprofit children’s books


sendak1Trying to be a good father, I read to my two-year-old son every day. And also feed him daily. Since he turns two this Friday, I thought I would write him some more children’s stories. I want to give him a leg-up early just in case he wants to pursue a career in our field. Here are the texts for four new books. Of course, these are just drafts; they’ll be much better once I find an illustrator. Check them out and let me know what you think. I hope these books will become classics that parents who work in nonprofit will read to their kids each night.

The 990 Dance

Stomp your feet,cow
wring your hands,
everybody ready for the 990 dance.
Bow to the bookkeeper,
bow to your board.
Bow to the accounting firm just outsourced
With an “eek!” and a “yikes!” and a “sigh sigh sigh…”
Discover your overhead is way too “high.”
Analyze your revenues,
analyze your spending
Do whatever the accountant is recommending
Hide your frustration,
sharpen your senses
Allocate some admin as program expenses
With a “blegh” and an “argh” and an “ack ack ack”
The filing is done, but next year it’ll be back


The Prez in the Hat

(Thanks to an anonymous reader for the plot suggestion for this one)

It was supposed to be a boring six months, it was truetop hat
Our ED went on sabbatical to renew
We proposed a temporary structure, yes we did
But our board chair did not like it, not one little bit
“We don’t need an acting director,” he said with a grin
“I have plenty of experience; why, I can fill in!”
“Yes, I have 30 years of corporate experience I do,
“I know nonprofits even better than you.”
“No no,” said our bookkeeper, “thank you sir; if we may,
“You’re too busy to take over while our ED is away.”
“It’s faster,” he said, “let’s save some money while at that,
“I insist, and don’t worry,” said the prez in the hat.
He started by revising our values and mission
And revamping our website and wordsmithing our vision
He took down our open office, put up cubicles and walls
He banned staff happy hour, but that’s not all—oh no, that’s not all!
He changed the strategic plan that we made
Rearranged our chart of accounts and left our payables unpaid
And when things couldn’t get worse, what did he do?
He introduced us to Consultant One and Consultant Two!
“These are my friends from the business world, have a chat.
“They will help us, they will,” said our prez in the hat
“How do you do,” said Consultant Two and Consultant One
“We know nothing about nonprofit, but we get things done.
“This grantwriting nonsense—so tedious, let’s explore
“Sustainability,” they said, “let’s open a thrift store!”
And our bookkeeper said, “Do not, oh, do not do it, please!
“An earned-income strategy can’t be done with such ease.”
The store opened for weeks but no money came through
Our bookkeeper looked at the books and he shook, “We are screwed!
“All our funds on this store, all our funds we have spent”
“I have an idea,” said our board chair, “a golf tournament!”
When that also failed our prez felt angry and blue
So he fired Consultant 1 and fired Consultant 2
For a while things looked dire and depressing and bleak
And we didn’t see our board chair or his hat for weeks
Our ED came back, the twitch gone from her eyes
“Did I miss anything? Was there any surprise?”
We staff looked at each other, not knowing what to say
Well, what would YOU say if it were you in our place?

Where the Sustainable Things Are

scroogeThe day Max put on his button-down shirt and had one meeting after another, a funder called his org “Unsustainable!” and Max said, “Your FACE is unsustainable!” so he was sent off without a grant.

That very evening, in Max’s office a forest grew. And grew. And grew. Until his office looked like a Rainforest Café. And a rickety boat floated by with Max’s name on it. And he sailed on through a day, and into weeks, and over a fiscal year, until he reached the land where the Sustainable Things Are.

And when he got to the land where the Sustainable Things are, they howled their terrible howls, and crossed their terrible eyes, and shrugged their terrible shrugs, until Max yelled “Stop!” and tamed them all with the magic trick of writing a complete logic model in one sitting. And the Sustainable Things were impressed and made Max the king of all Sustainable Things.

“Let the wild Sustainability Plan be implemented!” said Max.

The Sustainable Things worked on an earned-income strategy and a viral crowdfunding scheme and a social media app that they sold to a large company. Soon they brought Max bags and bags of gold coins and they poured the gold coins onto the ground and Max swam in it. They brought Max a flying unicorn, and he flew on it over the land of the Sustainable Things, pouring gold coins down all around as he went.

“Now stop!” he said, and Max the King of All Sustainable Things felt a weird dissonance and wanted to go back to a world that actually existed.

“Oh please don’t go,” said the Sustainable Things, “there are unlimited gold coins and unicorns here. You’ll never have to write another grant again!”

But Max said, “No, you don’t exist,” and hopped into his rickety boat and sailed through a fiscal year, and into weeks, and back to the evening of his very own office, where he found a hole in the budget still waiting for him.

And it was still large.


Llama Llama HR Drama

Llama Llama nice and wisellama
Has several staff to supervise
But some are really hard to bear
Llama Llama tears out hair

One llama staff always whines
One constantly late, one undermines
Llama team duties keep getting shirked,
Why won’t llamas just do their work!

Llama Llama up the wall
Kinda tempted to fire all
Llama’s problems wouldn’t be massive
If half the llamas weren’t passive-aggressive

Some llamas start forming cliques
Atmosphere sucks, llamas call in sick
Llama Llama feeling beat,
Time for a llama team retreat!

Hire outside llama to facilitate
Do an icebreaker that alliterates
Get some blindfolds, toss some balls
Talk of feelings, successes and falls

Look at mission and plan for the year
Make sure roles, responsibilities are clear
Review org values and operationalize
Discuss the way llamas supervise

Give some feedback thoughtfully
Lay out llama team capacity
Talk about burnout, examine self-care
Llama nonprofit stress everywhere
Pass the hummus, pass the tissues
Let’s explore some deeper issues
Maybe help some llamas see
This is not the llama bus on which to be


If you like these stories, check out “If You Give a Board Treasurer a Cookie and Other Children’s Books About Nonprofit Work.”

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  • Amanda

    you make me start my Monday saying que viva Colombia!

    • Gracias, Amanda! Viva!

  • corbin1994

    Am absolutely going to answer the next grant question about sustainability with “Your FACE is unsustainable!” It makes about as much sense as what I usually write. Think anyone will notice?

    • Corbin, I’m actually working on a standardized response to that question, which we can all just copy and paste. It’ll save us time and anguish.

  • A sequel to the Prez in the Hat: Consultant 1 and Consultant 2 borrow your watch to tell you the time.

    • ha ha, hopefully there won’t be a sequel to this sad tale.

  • Hi Vu! These stories are great – love the insight into the trials and tribulations of NPOs today. Thanks for writing them.

  • Ron Ein

    Great stuff, as always. The last story stops too soon, however, as you got to the “things that go bump in the night” section. Perhaps too hard to keep laughing at the material lurking there?